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When your ranking destroyed the best burger place in America
More people sent me Kevin Alexander’s most recent story for Thrillist than have ever sent me anything before. Last year, Alexander published a fantastic list of the best burgers in America. Six months ago, his top choice (a local family place in Portland, OR named Stanich’s) closed. This article revisits the list, and how the extra attention he brought to the place helped to close it. Alexander meditates on how his article turned Stanich’s from a restaurant into a thing. A thing to be visited, consumed, and ranked by a legion of outsiders. Alexander is honest about his own place in all this. It would be easy for him to blame the hoards of Instagramming scensters who flooded the place (*looks aggressively in mirror*), but he’s very open that he pointed them in that direction! Also, he admits he isn’t all that much better than them. The burger is good, but he also liked the story and the authenticity.
This article crossed over from the food media to the regular media world. I saw a lot of shares on Twitter and Facebook by people who don’t usually share food news. I think one reason it resonated is that it’s so rare for media members to fully engage with their power over the world. Obviously, it’s hard not to draw the President Trump parallels, but Alexander’s piece was a great reflection on this in a lower-stakes (except for the owners of Stanich’s) and non-partisan situation. Media can feel like a profession that is under assault and isn’t particularly powerful anymore. Many writers have a nihilistic “lol nothing matters” vibe that they use to mask their deep passion about the world and sense of right and wrong. It makes the most recent layoff or article you slaved over that no one clicked on hurt less. But this story is a good reminder of how powerful the media can be. A simple list of the best burgers can ruin lives.
Alexander doesn’t have an answer to this problem. Neither do I. People aren’t going to stop making lists. I don’t believe we shouldn’t review treasured local or out-of-the-way places. I just hope that everyone who has a megaphone will reflect on that responsibility as Alexander did in this piece. And yes, especially political reporters who covered the 2016 election. Jesus, gang.
The New York Times, in an absolutely beautiful story, profiles refugee cooks who are making their first Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a wonderful story that mixes in facts about the United States' terrible record on refugees with inspirational stories about the kind of people who make it through the process. I died laughing at a Syrian woman who, making mashed potatoes and being told she shouldn’t add a bunch of spices, says “Without it, there isn’t much flavor, no?”
CRIMEWATCH: Rene Chun and The Atlantic looks at weird fruit and vegetable crimes nationwide. This piece should be five times longer. If someone would like to commission me to do a wine theft podcast I am available.
I find something weirdly American and inspiring about mail-order pies. It seems so logistically impossible and useless, but capitalism, that pure American virtue, has triumphed over the most American of dishes. Bloomberg ranks the top ten mail-order pies in the country. It’s neat, but mostly to imagine who pays $99 for a peanut butter pie.
Dayna Evans writes a loooong essay for Eater on the tech-bro-ification of bread. Evans meditates on exactly why Tech bros have seemingly colonized this ancient human tradition. There’s a lot of good stuff in here about men taking on any topic traditionally dominated by women and supposedly “perfecting” it. I’d have been interested if Evans had spent a bit more time going back over the history of bread in the US. It feels like the hipness of bread baking is on a 20 year cycle and I’d like to know more about that.
Bill Addison has dropped his annual opus, Eater’s list of the 38 Essential restaurants in America. Addison seems particularly reflective about what these restaurants say about the America we might want to live in. One where the line between “their” food and “our” food is basically disappearing. One that is hospitable and charming to outsiders. One where everything sounds so damn good. It will be his last for Eater, as he is heading to the Los Angeles Times (more on that in the Los Angeles section).
Kim Severson digs into the history of brining turkey. While I’ve always felt bad that I could never convince my Dad to do it, Kim reassures me that the trend, which was largely fueled by food writers, is already mostly over. It’s a fascinating look at the depths of desperation food writers go to to think up something interesting to say about the most traditional meal in America every year.
Helen Rosner, writing in the New Yorker, dives into stock. She writes about why we are obsessed with this ubiquitous kitchen staple, and gives her recipe for making a great one. I’m not really doing justice to her piece, which you should read.
I didn’t expect “Nick Offerman’s Mark Twain dinner” to be something I was horrifically sad I missed, but here we are. Tejal Rao profiles the dinner, as well as a new audiobook released by Audible, which mixes dialogue from the dinner and stories and interviews about Twain. Offerman narrates the book, and the whole thing is tied together by a menu, set by Twain himself, of American foods that Twain once wrote he most craved while in Europe. This is an interesting piece of media for Audible, riiiiiiiight in between audiobook and podcast.
This Kieran Dahl piece for Curbed isn’t about restaurants, but it isn’t NOT about restaurants. Dahl looks at stadium seating, a trend that is becoming ubiquitous in certain kinds of office and cafes (and Sweetgreen. Always Sweetgreen). She explores why restaurants choose it, and if we even like it that much.
I sometimes think about where I would go if I could go back in time. The grandeur and decadence of Ancient Rome? Drink with Hemingway and Fitzgerald in 1920s Paris? Meet Gandhi, or Jesus? All of those answers are now wrong. I would travel back in time to sit in the studio during the recording of the Chili’s baby back ribs jingle. Please watch this video and tell me I am wrong.
And all my Toasties chime in: DANIEEEELLLLLLLLL.
I’m trying super hard to avoid too big of a political crush on Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. This new Bon Appetit profile of Ocasio-Cortez, on how her time in the restaurant industry shaped her politics, is NOT HELPING: “The food industry is the nexus of almost all of the major forces in our politics today,” she says. “It’s super closely linked with climate change and ethics. It’s the nexus of minimum wage fights, of immigration law, of criminal justice reform, of health care debates, of education. You’d be hard-pressed to find a political issue that doesn’t have food implications.”
I was a bit confused last issue about Eater’s article about Father Divine. Author Vince Dixon published a long twitter thread about why he wrote the story and a moving experience he had while doing the research.
Amanda Mull, newly at The Atlantic, analyzes a trend that I didn’t even know I was missing: celery juice. Pushed by a weird Hollywood guru (with help from GOOP, natch), there doesn’t seem to be much behind this craze.
All I want for Christmas is a set of chopsticks made out of recycled Japanese professional baseball bats.
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Have the people behind this new “Luxury Bodega” startup actually been to a New York City bodega? My ice cream costs $7 per pint and toilet paper is like $4 per roll. We’re good, man.
Aaron Goldfarb, writing for PUNCH, dives into the NYC Best Bars Group. This collection of eight bars around Manhattan aren’t famous, iconic, or even particularly good. But they’ve been around, and wildly successful, for almost three decades. My jaw dropped open and I got a dopamine hit of nostalgia recognizing names and half-remembering nights at some of them. Goldfarb tries to dig into why, beyond the cheap drinks, these places are their own kind of icon.
Pete Wells really likes Misi, a new restaurant in Williamsburg’s Domino sugar factory. Chef Missy Robbins was recruited to fill the space, and according to Wells has nailed it. Wells says most people will view it as a pasta restaurant, similar to Lilia (Robbins’ other restaurant). Wells, however, calls out the vegetables, which are uncommonly good. Robbins approaches both with bold simplicity. Her dishes have few ingredients, and some of the combinations will surprise and delight. He awards it three stars.
Ligaya Mishan visits Momo Crave in Woodside, where recent immigrants are capitalizing on a trend that is popular in India right now: weird plays on Momos. The lead photo, of Momos prepared as if they were Tandoori chicken, is enough to make me want to go.
Tejao Rao, writing in The New York Times, dives into the world of magazine Thanksgiving covers. Last week Eater made fun of them, but this goes deeper into the decisions various editors and stylists are making. This is a great snapshot of the food media world circa 2017. One wild statistic was one magazine seeing a 20% drop in newsstand sales when they used a carved turkey vs. a whole one.
The Vietnamese food of Fields Corner is bleeding into the rest of Dorchester. The Dot Reporter profiles VietCcafe in Neponset, which blends fancy coffee with Vietnamese and more pan-Asian foods. Bao may not be traditional, but they go great with a cup of coffee.
Dante Ramos, with the ONLY good Thanksgiving take: We should be eating the Brookline turkeys. “Don't kid yourself Jimmy, if a [turkey] ever got the chance, he'd kill you, and everyone you cared about.”
When I was younger, JP was a place for old people. I sometimes wonder now if JP has gotten cooler or if I’ve just gotten older, but it is one of the greatest places in Boston. Part of that is because of restaurateur David Doyle, who owns local stalwarts Tres Gatos and Casa Verde. Doyle has recently reinvented local Centre Street Cafe as Little Dipper. MC Slim JB visits and says that it turns out terrific elevated diner classics. Be warned, brunch waits are already an hour plus. He had me a “space-themed”.
Have any of you heard of Mumbo sauce? The mayor of D.C. dissed it and people went OFF. The Post digs a bit deeper.
I like Tyler Cowen. An Economist Gets Lunch is a fun read, and Cowen is an unabashed and curious eater. That said, he’s frequently smug and self-satisfied (or at least comes across that way). That vein definitely runs through his op-ed about eating Sushi Nakazawa in the Trump hotel. He calls it one of the best restaurants in D.C., which is all but empty because of its associations with Trump. Lots of people, Cowen included, don’t make perfectly rational decisions. Not eating at a place that is run by a noted asshole in a building run by a larger asshole is a fine place to draw a line.
Laura Hayes takes a deep dive into the future of mental health in D.C.’s restaurant industry. There is a lot here from a lot of people, but overall we have to stop treating restaurants as if we are assuming this is temporary labor. Also provide universal health care and mental health care.
The rare story about a place in Chicago I’ve actually been. While in town for a job interview earlier this year, I ducked out for a snack. My destination? The best Chicago hot dog stand in the Loop. Little did I know that U.B. Dogs was the only Chicago Dog stand in the loop! And now it’s closing! It doesn’t sound like there’s a big meta lesson here, since it’s super successful and the owners want to travel. However, it probably says something about the overall urban “FiDi-ification” of cities around the country that local standards are being replaced by bowl-based national chains.
The Chicago Tribune drops a weird double review of Bar Ramone, a new Pintxos and wine bar from the Lettuce Entertain You Group. Phil Vettel drops a boring but positive review of the food. Then drinks editor Joseph Hernandez drops a more lively and informative review of the wine. I would have rather just read an extended piece by Hernandez.
Mike Sula calls out Carnitas La Esquinita, an overlooked Irving Park Mexican spot where a young chef is turning out some of the best carnitas in the city. It’s interesting reading this in the context of Kexin Alexander’s piece. Here’s a situation where with enough media attention (and more traffic to the restaurant), maybe this poor kid making amazing food doesn’t have to work a second job.
Michael Gerbert at Fooditor interviews author and Chicago-based food historian Cynthia Clampitt on her new book Pigs, Pork and Heartland Hogs: From Wild Boar to Baconfest. This is a fascinating snapshot of how Chicago once fed a growing nation and how humanity has evolved codependently with pigs.
The Los Angeles Times, which is on a bit of a hiring spree, has announced two replacements for J. Gold. Eater’s Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega (a food writer at the Arizona Republic) will take over double duty for the Times. Neither has a particular beat, and the Times story hints they will range outside the city. With a beefed up “California” team along with new folks covering state politics, the Times appears to be making a strong bid to own California. I bet we’ll see reviews of places in San Francisco (and around the state) a bit more. Gustavo Arellano, another Snack Cart fav, has been hired as a feature writer for the Metro section.
A museum of Mexican food is an awesome idea.
A local Taquero drove his truck to one of the wildfire evacuation sites and gave out free food until he ran out. Taco trucks on every corner indeed.
Daniel Hernandez diaries the last days of Irv’s Burgers, a West Hollywood local favorite that is closing down after a protracted fight to stay open. He paints a lovely portrait of days like this, where people who had kinda stopped coming flood the place for one last burger. He also points out that the Los Angeles roadside burger (think In & Out or Shake Shack) is starting to take over as the dominant form of burger in America.
Out of Context J. Gold of the Week
It’s a good thing I ordered extra sardine burgers. There might have been a mutiny halfway through the meal. - link